A group of police officers raided the home of a retired teacher in Hong Kong on Saturday morning and seized 22 copies of children’s books that criticize President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.
Last week, three books were featured in the news on the front pages of mainstream media. Two of them portrayed the protesters as sheep, while the third depicted them as dogs. The police have arrested five, including the author of one of the books, for “inciting violence” against the protesters. This has resulted in public outrage among the general public, and calls for a clear statement from our government as to why the police felt that there was a need to arrest the authors of the books, rather than the police themselves, who are also perpetrators of violence.
One of the most popular children’s books in Hong Kong, a tale of a herd of sheep who protest against the government, has been pulled off the shelves of a government-run bookstore over fears that it instilled pro-democracy sentiments. A 56-page book called “Sheep Are People Too” was penned by Hong Kong-born illustrator Timothy Lui, who has been documenting the social movements in the city. The story follows the sheep’s exploits and their fight against Beijing’s pro-Beijing policies.
Five individuals were detained in Hong Kong for allegedly plotting to commit sedition via a series of picture books depicting sheep being attacked by wolves, a reference to China’s assault on pro-democracy activists in the city.
Police showed three illustrated booklets that they claim incited hate against the government among youngsters as young as four hours after detaining five members of a speech therapists’ union. Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said during a press conference that the drawings simplified “political topics that youngsters wouldn’t understand and beautifies criminal actions.” “They’re designed to harm children’s minds,” he said.
The books were given by the speech therapists’ union, which was established in November 2019—a period when some activists formed workers’ organizations as a means to coordinate protest activities against the government—through pro-democracy companies, local political offices, and online.
One of the novels, “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” is set against the background of the anti-government demonstrations that erupted in Hong Kong in 2019. The story shows the wolves plotting to take over the sheep’s community and eat them all.
Another, “12 Warriors of Sheep Village,” is a reference to a dozen activists apprehended by the Chinese coast guard last year during an ill-fated boat escape from Hong Kong. The third book in the series, titled “Street Cleaners of Sheep Village,” refers to a medical workers’ strike last year, when Hong Kong had its first coronavirus infections imported from China, by portraying foreigners as trash wolves.
Police presented evidence that they claim incited anti-government sentiment.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/daniel Suen
The arrests, which came on the same day that four former executives and journalists of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily appeared in court charged with violating the national-security law by conspiring to collude with external forces, are part of an intensifying crackdown on dissent in the former British colony. After authorities confiscated the assets of Apple Daily, which was established by imprisoned media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the magazine was forced to stop publishing last month.
Since the national-security legislation was enacted last year, authorities have begun targeting publishers. Media and opposition organizations have expressed worries that free speech is being curtailed and that so-called red lines regarding what constitutes a criminal are being widened in order to remove government criticism.
In a Facebook post on the arrests, Herbert Chow, a local businessman who supports the protest movement, said, “Even children’s picture books breach the red line.”
Two men and three women, all between the ages of 25 and 28, were detained as board members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists. Instead of the security legislation enforced by China, they were imprisoned under a colonial-era antisedition statute.
According to the union’s website mission statement, it has decided to identify itself with those who are politically disadvantaged. On its website, it said, “We are a group of speech therapists, we should walk with the unheard.” “Those who are fortunate will not realize that speaking is a luxury. But this strikes a chord with us.”
The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong published its last issue in June before ceasing operations due to China’s crackdown on dissent. Elaine Yu of the Wall Street Journal discusses why the shutdown means more uncertainty for the city’s journalistic liberties. Photo credit: EPA/Shutterstock/Jerome Favre
During their search of the suspects’ residences and workplaces, police claimed they found approximately 550 relevant publications, as well as numerous pro-democracy flyers and protest-themed figurines.
Christine Choi Yuk-lin, deputy director of Hong Kong’s education department, condemned one of the speech therapists’ union’s children’s books for being unsuitable for use in schools earlier this year, warning parents that it was “political propaganda.”
Mr. Li, the police superintendent, said that the organization disregarded Ms. Choi’s warning and continued to print books.
—This essay was written with the help of Elaine Yu.
Joyu Wang can be reached at [email protected]
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